Friday, February 18, 2011

Books I can't read

Recently, I blogged about what I look for in a film. Now lets have a look at some of the things that I find important in books.

Everyone has a style of book they like to read, and styles that they don’t. We all have books we love, and books we loathe.

When I’m reading a book, the main thing it needs is a good story that is comprehensive and moves along at a reasonable pace. This is why I never got through The Wheel of Time, by Robert Jordan. It also needs a reasonably well-constructed and consistent world. On that note:

There is one series of books that I was never able to read: The Lord Of The Rings series. I just couldn’t do it, and it's not through lack of trying. I tried about 4 times. I mean that quite seriously - four attempts. Never got to the end of The Fellowship. I also tried The Hobbit a couple of times. Couldn’t get through that one, either.

Part of the problem is just how much descriptive writing there is. Some people love this style of writing; they love the thought and detail that the author put into their construction of the world; they appreciate being able to read the effort that went into designing all the aspects of the book before it was put together into a novel. Some people need that much detail to be able to construct images of what is going on. I'm not like that.

Unfortunately, I have an extremely visual brain.  If the author says “grassy hills”, my brain inserts that image for me. Saying “Grassy hills on a partly cloudy day”, my brain gives me hills with grass, clouds in the sky, and corresponding patches of shade. It'll even insert the breeze that makes the grass sway.

If an author tells me that there is a door, my brain immediately forms the image of the door, which is mostly complete. The colour of the wood, how it’s carved, the relative dimensions, and these will depend partly on the context and the location of the door.

If the author then starts giving more and more information on the door after said door has already been inserted (colour, grain, type of knob, etc etc), my brain has to rebuild the image it already has which causes me to overload on information, put the book away and avoid ever picking it up again.

I don’t care how many shades of green the grass is - I can handle that bit. Get on with the story, please. Let me construct my own doors.

Like with movies, this is a matter of balance. World-building, action scenes and social commentary (Hugo, Tolstoy; I’m glaring at both of you!) should not overpower the plot. This has caused me issues with Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglass Adams (which I still got through and liked in general), and also with Ringworld by Larry Niven (which I read and kinda hated, despite falling in love with the idea of a Ringworld).

It’s also why I like the writing of Sarah Douglass (The Troy Game is my favourite series), as she writes for people like me.

So if I tell you that no, I have not read The Lord of the Rings but the movies were OK, and that I’ve only read the abridged version of Les Mis, but I loved the musical, don’t look at me like there’s something wrong with me. It’s entirely to do with the way my brain constructs images, and the way it overloads when it is given too many things to factor in at one time.

Or, to put it simply, I have a Powerful Imagination!


  1. You just perfectly described why I have trouble with the lord of the rings. And I couldn't even pinpoint why it bothered me so much but now I know! I read the hobbit when I was younger (about 11)and I was more likely to skip over bits that annoyed me (overly descriptive-ness) than I am now. I'm not sure why but now I'm older I get more irritated by things (have less patence) than I did when I was little...
    Anyway thanks for the insight :)

  2. The Ringworld is unstable!

    It's a bit sad how much of the first sequel consists of the author trying to retcon all the things he got wrong in the original...